Will social media help decide the 2010 UK general election?

Social networking is starting to infiltrate every part of our lives, from reconnecting with old friends to sharing photos to voicing your opinions on the Apple iPad.

In today's converged media environment, consumers take it for granted that content will be fed to them through multiple channels. So it was inevitable that social networking would play a fundamental part in the political decision making process.

The UK population has been turning to the internet in droves to help guide them through the entire election, including researching the various parties and their MPs, registering to vote, voicing their own opinion and discussing topics affecting local and general issues.

According to analytical firm Experian, UK vote-related searches increased by 169 per cent between the week ending 3 April 2010 and the week ending 10 April with searches for the most popular term, 'register to vote', increasing nine-fold.

During the historic televised prime-ministerial debate, Twitter showed more than 184,396 tweets for the #leadersdebate, equating to more than 29 tweets-per-second.

Similarly, surfers flocked in their tens-of-thousands to other social networks, news sites and blogs to comment and consume information about the event. Even Google is lending a helping hand with its own dedicated election 2010 page tracking various UK Election search trends.

Beyond this major event, topics such as the passing of popular bills are increasingly discussed, petitioned and viewed on social networks such as Facebook, with the real time immediacy allowing political figures and the general public to have a greater impact on the decision making process, not just after the fact, but in near real time.

The same trend was seen in the US during the last election and was used to particularly good effect by Barack Obama and the change.gov platform to help raise his profile and engage the nation's population by providing a single destination for Americans to give input on the priorities for the first year of the incoming administration.

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